Friday, April 29, 2016

As in the days of Noah

The Apostles asked Jesus, "When shall these things be?" They were asking about the dawning of the Kingdom of God. In reply, Jesus said:
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark… Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." (Matthew 24:36-42)
In this passage from Matthew's Gospel Jesus compares the coming Day of Judgement to events surrounding Noah's survival of the flood. In that great flood some died and some were spared.  Those who were spared owed their salvation to God's intervention in their lives.  Noah, a great ruler in the region of Lake Chad, was a righteous man who listened to God and obeyed.  Likewise, on that great Day, some will experience salvation through faith while others will be lost. This passage is about the Judgement. To make it be about the "Rapture" is to do damage to the text.

The term "rapture" is taken from St. Jerome's Latin translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17—"we will be caught up" [Latin: rapiemur]. The Rapture is a cherished doctrine of American Fundamentalists. It has been perpetuated through popular books and movies. The doctrine maintains that Christ will return twice, first to the sky where He will gather to Himself all the elect, and later to the Earth for the Day of Judgment. A deep study of the Bible does NOT support this view.

The rapture was popularized in the 1970s by Hal Lindsey’s novels, especially The Late Great Planet Earth, and more recently by the apocalyptic fiction of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. These writers were elaborating on an idea that appeared in the thought of John Nelson Darby, considered to be the founder of Dispensationalism. Belief in "the Rapture" is a key element of Dispensationalism.

John Nelson Darby

For Americans, the most influential figure of Dispensationalism was C.I. Scofield who perpetuated this doctrine in the footnotes of his Scofield Reference Bible. Many who uncritically read the Scofield Bible have adopted the doctrine, though it has no precedent in the Church or in the writings of the Church Fathers.

According to Dispensationalists, when Christ returns, those who have died in Christ will be raised to a glorious state, along with all living believers. As a body these will be caught up from the Earth to be with Jesus Christ. This is the assumption based on 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, which states, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord."

Here the Apostle Paul is stressing the bodily resurrection and proper order. He is describing the Last Day, not an intermediate event when the faithful are "caught up" as was the mysterious Enoch of old.

In the Bible, God reveals enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we can trust in ourselves for salvation. Noah was a faithful ruler who recognized the Creator as his God and obeyed Him as his Lord. He lived in a time much like our own, with the effects of climate change and a dependence on false spirituality.

Before His ascension, the Apostles asked Jesus, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority." (Acts 1:7)

Because no one knows the day and hour when the second advent will occur, many assume that it is impossible to say anything more precise in regard to Christ's return than what is stated at Matthew 24 and Acts 1:7. However, we should ask this question: "What were the days of Noah like?" Today there is a great deal of information about Noah's homeland at the time of the flood. We also have a good picture of the customs of the people around him that displeased the Creator.

Many who lived in the region of Noah's homeland relied on shamanic ritual to gain favor from the spirits. The ruler-priests of Noah's line did not perform these rituals. Instead they offered burnt sacrifice to atone for the sins of their people and they did not consult spirits. Their worldview was distinct from the worldview of the prehistoric pagans, just as today the worldview of Christian priests is distinct from the worldview of shamans and modern pagans who rely on rituals rather than the atoning work of the Incarnate Christ.

It is sufficient for us to know that God has appointed a day for the restoring of all things. It is sufficient for us who await that day to continue in the Apostles' teaching, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer.

As with Noah, we are to be vigilant, ever watchful, heeding the Creator's warnings so that we are ready for the Last Day. It took many years for the waters to accumulate in Noah's homeland to the point where the great water systems overflowed into one another. So there is time, though limited, for people to be warned of the Judgement that is to come.

The Church Father Origen has this to say about the vigilance that is to characterize the Christian life:
All who listen to the depths of the gospel and live it so completely that none of it remains veiled from them care very little about whether the end of the world will come suddenly and all at once or gradually and little by little. Instead, they bear in mind only that each individual’s end or death will arrive on a day and hour unknown to him and that upon each one of us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” It is important therefore to be vigilant... When God the Word comes and brings an end to the progress of this life, he will gather up the one who gave “no sleep to his eyes nor slumber to his eyelids” and kept the commandment of the One who said, “Be vigilant at all times.”…But I know another kind of end for the righteous person who is able to say along with the apostle, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.” In a certain sense, the end of the world has already come for the person to whom the world is crucified. And to one who is dead to worldly things the day of the Lord has already arrived, for the Son of man comes to the soul of the one who no longer lives for sin or for the world. (Commentary on Matthew 56)
Related reading: Noah's Ark; Dispensationalism and the Three Witnesses; The Kingdom of God in Genesis; Male Spiritual Leaders: Two Patterns; Shamanic Practice and the Priesthood; Was Noah Mesopotamian or Proto-Saharan?; Ken Ham and the "Ark Park" Miss the Boat


Jonathan said...

I am certain that Noah did keep vigilance on his own soul, while also being quite mindful that the looming catastrophe on the world was imminent. It probably motivated him to hurry up and build the ark that much faster. In the text from Origen's commentary on Matthew, the first quote appears to be clipped from II Peter 3:10 "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," ... where it follows "... in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up." And (still in II Peter) we read: "Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." I'm interested in your thoughts about how, in our anticipation of the coming righteous judgment, but with understandable reluctance to see the whole world go up in flames, we should "hasten the Day" in our present circumstances.

Alice Linsley said...

By living lives of humility, compassion, and prayer.

By repentance and faithfulness to the Church's mission.

The details are not for us servants to know. We are to fill the water jars. The Lord will work the miracle of water to wine. We are to roll away the stone. Christ our God will call forth the dead.